By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Ministry of Economic Affairs launched the country’s national trade policy yesterday, with Minister Michael Halkitis hailing the document as an important component of the government’s plans to diversify the Bahamian economy.
“Today is a monumental day as we officially introduce the national trade policy to the public,” Mr Halkitis said during a press conference at the prime minister’s office yesterday.
“It cannot be overstated how important having a comprehensive and cohesive trade policy is to our national development. This policy is a key component of a wider development strategy to diversify the economy and power Bahamian businesses domestically and internationally, and lower the trade deficit.”
“Key areas that are being targeted by the government, such as niche agricultural and fisheries products, uniquely Bahamian craft, food and goods and other green blue and orange economy products and services, will all benefit from this policy. “
Mr Halkitis said the national trade policy was the product of continuous stakeholder engagement, adding: “We have incorporated much of that engagement to ensure that the policy before us today is as strong and comprehensive and inclusive as possible.”
“We must ensure that our policies allow the Bahamians to tap into global markets without unnecessarily long processes and exorbitant expenses. Our trade policy should make business owners feel like we are helping them to reach an international client base. Instead of jumping through hoops, they should feel like the government is giving them a boost. And that is what we hope to achieve through this policy.”
As he lamented the country’s economic vulnerabilities to natural disasters, he said trade would play a significant role in how The Bahamas builds a new, diverse and more resilient economy.
“There are many more steps to take in this journey as we explore The Bahamas’ true potential for trade,” Mr Halkitis said. “What matters most where this policy is concerned is its impact. Ultimately, the true measure of the effectiveness of this policy lies in its ability to empower Bahamian businesses, know the trade deficit and contribute to the creation of a more resilient and diverse economy. “
“And just as more emphasis will be placed on effective implementation as was placed on the development of the policy and with practical application, we anticipate that we will continue to work hand in hand with Bahamians to ensure that we are moving towards a future where Bahamian businesses can effortlessly export their products to the world.”
The newly released policy has four themes: reducing imports, expanding exports, diversifying exports, and strengthening domestic competitiveness.
The National Trade Policy report says: “Action areas to expand domestic production of goods for the Bahamian market include a review of the tariff structure with a view to enhancing the level of effective protection granted to domestic producers, measures to reduce the imports of mineral fuels, as well as a number of support measures for the domestic industry.”
Regarding expanding exports, the report says the main focus is to remove market access barriers abroad, expand export promotion and provide targets for making exporting easier and cheaper through export financing and insurance schemes, etc.
For export diversification, the report adds: “The focus will be on products and sectors that are based on locally available raw materials (also in the figurative sense) such as further marine products, selected agriculture products such as cascarilla, or the creative industries (including services).”
The report also notes that upgrading the quality of infrastructure is the main contribution of the national trade policy under the theme of strengthening domestic competitiveness.
“We have been extremely busy working assiduously to understand the importance of trade to educate and promote what trade has to offer to The Bahamas as well as to look for new opportunities for Bahamian businesses to grow both domestically and internationally, particularly with respect to export opportunities,” said Phillip Galanis, chairman of The Bahamas Trade Commission.